The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
In any case, Favre's receiving corps in Minnesota is not what we thought it would be. We've had to call an audible on the Juggernaut schedule, in fact, because this team needed to be downgraded. The Vikings weren't originally on the calendar this week (or next), but Sidney Rice's(notes) hip surgery has a trickle-down effect.
For starters, Rice himself needs to plummet down your cheat sheet. In smaller leagues, he's off the board entirely. Rice recently had surgery to address a hip injury he suffered in the NFC title game — the injury failed to heal during the offseason, then worsened during camp. Here are the essential details, straight from Rice's blog. In the best-case scenario, he'll miss half the season. In the worst-case scenario, he'll be on the shelf until the Tarvaris Jackson(notes) era begins.
Either way, Rice clearly can't help you this September or October. The man caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight TDs last year in a breakout campaign, so this is a significant fantasy event.
If you've already drafted Rice, then the first and most important piece of advice we can give you is this: Don't panic. Repeat: Do not panic. It's not necessary to make a desperation trade in August; no one needs to massively overhaul their lineup before Week 1. If you're in a competitive league, then other managers are no doubt coming at you with lopsided trade offers that involve various low-ceiling wideouts — and you might actually be considering such deals, because you're overwhelmed by Rice regret.
But remember, useful wide receivers will be available early in the season via the free agent pool. Be aggressive in your waiver claims and FAAB bids. In football leagues, a significant percentage of the ownable talent at this position — even the elite talent — will go undrafted. This happens every year, in every league. Many of the game's most important assets will be mid-season pick-ups.
In fact, Rice himself was a waiver wire add in most leagues last season. So was Miles Austin(notes), so was Mike Sims-Walker(notes), so was New York's Steve Smith. If you make a panic trade, believing that a Schaub-for-T.O. swap will somehow repair your roster, then you'll only make a bad situation much, much worse.
Nonetheless, this is a bad situation. Rice's big year wasn't an accident, nor was it simply a case of Favre turning an ordinary wideout into a fantasy star. Rice is a legitimately gifted player with terrific hands, ideal size (6-4, 202) and unusual leaping ability (44-inch vertical). Minnesota doesn't have another receiver on the roster with his all-terrain talent. Percy Harvin(notes) is, at his best, an electrifying player capable of turning a short completion into a game-changing play. But he of course has medical issues of his own; Harvin has been sidelined for much of camp due to severe migraines, an issue that plagued him late in an otherwise excellent rookie season.
There's actually been a migraine-related price adjustment on Percy in recent drafts, making him a nice risk/reward play. He's a scary talent when he's right. If he falls to Rounds 7 or 8 — and that's where he went in nearly every draft at this three-day marathon, where I served as a roving instructor/surrogate drafter — then you need to jump. He's well-positioned to make a value leap in his second season, if the Vikings' medical staff can manage his brain-freeze issues.
Bernard Berrian(notes) has been credible a deep threat over the course of his six-year NFL career, and he's delivered a pair of 900-yard seasons ('07 and '08). He's not a high-volume receiver, however. Berrian's best single-season reception total is 71, a total he reached in Chicago with the irrepressible Rex Grossman(notes) as his quarterback. He's averaged just 51.5 catches per year in his two seasons with Minnesota. Still, we're all reluctantly bumping Berrian up the WR ranks, following the Rice news. The Vikings' 40-year-old quarterback clearly expects a meaningful contribution:
"We know we can pass," Favre said. "Without Sidney, it sure makes it tougher. Going into the season last year, no one expected the season Sidney was going to have. So maybe there's another guy who can step up and do that. Bernard's a very sharp guy. He wants the ball, and we're going to try to get it to him."
Minnesota has added Greg Camarillo(notes) to the mix via trade, thus satisfying the team's obvious need for a chain-moving, sure-handed possession receiver. Camarillo caught 50 passes for 552 yards with the Dolphins last season; he didn't visit the end zone, but he also didn't register a drop. In a PPR format, he's on the radar. The Vikes have also signed Favre's former pet wideout Javon Walker(notes), but he hasn't turned in a useful season since '06. He's now 31, and a combination of injuries, incidents and Raider-ness have derailed his career. Walker is basically a Hail Mary pick for deep leaguers; he's not player you need to target in standard formats. Greg Lewis(notes) and Logan Payne(notes) figure to occupy the final spots on the depth chart at receiver.
Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) is buried a bit in the Yahoo! tight end ranks, but only because the position appears to be loaded. He's crossed the goal line 18 times over the past two years, and the Rice situation clearly won't hurt his value. Last year's 56 receptions were a career-high, so don't expect Shiancoe to be a PPR monster.
Is it possible for Brett Favre to repeat last year's historic performance, with Rice sidelined indefinitely and Harvin dealing with recurring migraine issues? Well, reflexively I'd like to say, "Heck, no." Then I'd spit in the dirt for punctuation, because I'm country like that. But I've been burned repeatedly by Favre over the past three seasons, and I'm finished telling people what he can't do. He'll drop slightly in my ranks due to the many red flags attached to his receiving corps, but you still need to think of him as at least a situational fantasy starter in any league. He's an all-time great who literally never misses a start, and he's coming off the best season of his Hall of Fame career.
In 2009, Favre passed for 4,202 yards and 33 TDs while posting his highest-ever quarterback rating (107.2), his best completion percentage (68.4), his lowest interception rate (1.3), and his finest yards-per-attempt ratio (7.9). There were really no blemishes on his season, not until his final disastrous throw in the NFC title game. His offensive line remains very good, if somewhat overrated, so he'll have a few clean pockets from which to throw.
And by the way, he'll still have Earth's most dangerous/violent/brilliant/fumbly running back at his disposal. Adrian Peterson is a generational talent, the sort of back who forces a defense to bring an eighth man into the box, almost without regard to game circumstances. He was already in line for a massive workload, because Chester Taylor(notes) has relocated to Chicago. With the receiving corps in disarray, Peterson could be relied upon even more heavily. He caught a career-best 43 passes last season, and he'll set another career-high this year if he remains healthy. He's the top player on my draft board.
For reasons that remain unclear, people seemed to be disappointed with his 2009 season. At the aforementioned marathon draft event, I had the following conversation with a dude who had the second overall pick:
Dude: "I'll probably go MJD here. Had Peterson last year. He kinda let me down."
Me: "You know he scored 18 touchdowns, right?"
Me: "And he had two in Week 16. TDs in every week of the fantasy playoffs."
Me: "Yup, for real."
Dude: "Well, I'm picking MJD."
There's nothing wrong with Jones-Drew, of course. But we're three seasons into Peterson's career, and I'm completely sold. He'll be a top-three fantasy pick for the next six or seven years. If he gives us yet another 16-game season (as he did in '08 and '09), then we'll probably need to finally retire the injury-prone label. Rookie Toby Gerhart(notes) is merely a handcuff, a relatively ordinary runner by NFL standards. If the Vikings even consider giving him goal line responsibilities — thus sidelining the team's most significant offensive weapon at the most important time — it's a criminally negligent move.
Minnesota's defense is tremendous for fantasy purposes, and the team will face a pair of divisional opponents that are likely to be turnover-friendly (Chicago and Detroit). The Vikings D led the NFL in sacks last season (48) and they were one of only 10 teams that limited opponents to less than 20.0 points per game. This is a top-five unit in the imaginary game. If DB Antoine Winfield(notes) and LB EJ Henderson(notes) return to form after injury-marred seasons in '09 … well, look out. There's plenty of talent here. The IDPs to focus on are DE Jared Allen(notes) (14.5 sacks in '09, stylish always), DE Ray Edwards(notes) (8.5 sacks, 51 tackles), LB Chad Greenway(notes) (99 tackles), Henderson and Winfield.
OK, Norsemen, you've heard my take. Let's hear yours. Turn not from a challenging sword nor foreign ship, Bjorgolf!
Blow loud your horns, etc.
Photos via Getty Images
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